Engineer to Manager: Are you ready?

One of the ways I introduce myself is to say I help technologists who are hiding from their true potential. (Saying I’m a business coach sounds kind of boring, and doesn’t resonate with people much.)

I was talking to a really good friend last week. He’s one of the more knowledgeable, skilled, articulate, and visionary people I’ve had the pleasure of working with. He’s really quite exceptional.

He’s been getting offers to be a CTO. And he’s been shying away, saying “maybe in a few years”.

Now, there are lots of reasons to shy away from something new. But what’s interesting is that he actually wants more responsibility, and has big dreams about what he wants to accomplish in his lifetime. So these positions are in line with what he sees himself doing… eventually.

I notice a pattern in my work a lot, where there are really amazing technical people with big dreams, but they don’t ante up to be managers until several years after they are ready.

A lot of people (and especially engineers) feel like it’s preposterous or arrogant to declare that you’re ready to take the next step in your career. They wait for overwhelming evidence that they’re capable of doing something. This reminds me of the difference between sales and marketing – sales wants to tell a customer something is “coming” when they’ve only just dreamt it up last weekend, and engineering wants to diagram out exactly how it will be built and have it 3/4 done before it’s announced to anyone.

The thing about career moves is that you generally don’t have all of the experience you’ll need to do something new. It’s interesting – an engineer will happily jump over to a new platform or technology, and assume that they’ll work out all the details along the way. It’s just something they expect, and even part of the fun. What would it be like to take that lightness, that creativity, that “beginner’s mind” to the next step in your career?

Now, it’s one thing if you really don’t have the credentials to do something – I’m not advocating reckless jumps upward. But when people around you are suggesting that you give something a try, it might be worth considering that they are seeing a readiness that isn’t apparent to you.

Not every engineer is ready for (or even interested in) leadership. But if this feels familiar, you might be more ready than you think.

Author: Marcy Swenson

Marcy Swenson is an executive coach who works with tech startup founders and leaders. She writes about about entrepreneurs, leadership, and startup culture on her blog at StartupHappiness.com. She is studying what factors contribute (or detract) to creating a happy startup culture. Prior to becoming a coach, Marcy was a co-founder with two successful exits; at CPTH (Nasdaq), she built the tech team that led to IPO. Forbes names CPTH the fastest-growing high-tech company in the world in 1999. CPTH grew to 3000 employees in 4 years; for comparison, Google grew to 3000 employees in 6 years.